As a young pip
Every summer from the age of about eight, my brother and I would make a tidy profit from picking Victoria Plums from our garden and selling them in 50p bags at the end of our driveway. Every wasp sting was worth it whilst we were sitting on the hay bales consuming the fruits of our labour: Panda Pops and penny sweets. One garden fruit we would never part with, was the cherry. These were fruits of the gods, deep and curious and not for sharing. We’d pluck them from the branches in my parents’ garden and suck them like sweets before burying the stones in hope of more blossom the following spring. We never did see any new cherry shoots rise from the ground.
A special cherry
The British cherry season runs from July and August, but if you’re a bit of a cherry addict like me who has developed a taste for the season before it actually starts, then the overseas variety you just have to try are these gorgeous Spanish Picota cherries, which are harvested between June and July.
The Picota cherry is grown half-way between Madrid and the Portuguese border, on the terraced slopes of the Jerte Valley which stretches over 50 miles. When the trees are in blossom the valley is said to look magnificent, awash with beautiful white flowers.
Cherries three ways
To celebrate these little red gems, here are my three favourite ways to enjoy Picota cherries:
1) Morning: Bakewell Tart Bircher
Bircher still seems to be a bit of a trendy thing to eat. It all started around five years ago when the bircher stormed Soho deli counters and tote bags of the London media mod. These days you can find it in Pret-a-Manger and other good sandwich chains. I suspect it’s one of those things which might go out of fashion, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that bircher has succumbed the fate of the Hackney beard. It’s here to stay I tell you! If you’ve never heard of bircher before, it’s effectively cold porridge, left overnight to soak. I realise I’m not exactly selling it, but trust me, it’s really delicious, and really healthy. The secret is what you add to the mix, I use whatever I have in the cupboard or fruit bowl: chia seeds, fresh berries, yoghurt, dried dates, brazil nuts, grated apple, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon – the options are endless.
Bakewell Tart Bircher: Picota Cherry and Almond
One cup of porridge oats
Two cups of (unsweetened) almond milk
A handful of chopped Picota cherries
A tablespoon of cacao nibs
A handful of chopped roasted almonds
For a cherry loaded bircher, give this little recipe a whirl. Being both stone fruits, the flavours of cherry and almond marry very well together. Simply place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir, cover and leave overnight in the fridge to soak. In the morning you’ll have a chilled mixture of healthy oats and fruit swelled (enough for two or three breakfasts).
2) Afternoon: Cherries and poems in the garden
If you’ve managed to read through my colossal ‘about me’ page, then you’re a very, very patient person – and you’ll know that I’m into pairing food with poems. I love to read others’ poetry and write my own sometimes too. Forget wine pairing, poem pairing will be the next biggest thing in Hackney. Trust me. Now, if I was to poem match these Picota cherries, then I think I’d have to chose this deeply playful and summary poem by the rather marvelous Carol Ann Duffy:
Drunk ~ Carol Ann Duffy
Suddenly the rain is hilarious.
The moon wobbled in the dusk.
What a laugh. Unseen frogs
belch in the damp grass.
The strange perfumes of darkening trees.
Cheap red wine
and the whole world a mouth.
Give me a double, a kiss.
3) Evening: Guilt-free cherry brandy Picota pancakes
Carol’s poem ‘Drunk’ links nicely to the theme of my next cherry occasion – an after dinner, guilt-free, boozy cherry pancake. I borrowed Delia Smith’s basic pancake recipe http://bit.ly/1lkZUKF (cheers Delia, I’ve always been a big fan of your work) but instead of using milk, I substituted for Alpro unsweetened almond milk (you don’t need sweetened almond milk because these cherries are naturally sweet and full of flavour).
Once the pancakes were cooked, I topped them with lots of chopped Picota cherries, a dollop of crème fraiche, a small amount of chopped dark chocolate (70%) and a drizzle of cherry brandy.
Cherries are the new strawberries. Fact. So folks, celebrate Wimbledon this year with some Picotas! (I always was a bit of a rebel). And remember, a handful of cherries makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way.